It was the second straight Saturday that Kash Daniel was unhappy, eyes cast downward, displeasure apparent after the Kentucky football team’s scrimmage.
“It wasn’t to our standard last week, and this week definitely wasn’t to our standard,” the middle linebacker said of the defense after the closed event. “Like I said before, we’ll get some stuff corrected, watch some film and get ready for Sept. 1.”
Daniel perked up a bit when asked if perhaps fans should be encouraged that the offense had made some serious progress from the week before when Coach Mark Stoops called the whole thing average at best.
“Hell yeah,” Daniel said of the offense. “I mean, if we get Benny (Snell) back there running like he was today, I’m straight with the offense.”
So was Stoops, who was more upbeat overall after scrimmage two, just two weeks before the Cats take the same Kroger Field to face Central Michigan in the season opener.
“We really had a really good mentality about us today,” Stoops said. “Really mixed it up well, ran the ball, threw it, play action. They did a lot of things good and had a great urgency and did a really good job.”
After he blasted the entire group a bit a week ago, the head coach said he saw an offense that was working hard all week “really pushing through and playing extremely fast and working on getting the ball down the field and working on the passing game and putting it all together. They really had a solid week, and it showed today.”
In the defense’s defense, the Cats were missing some key parts. That’s a big deal for a group that is returning all but two starters and has built some continuity.
Kentucky was especially thin at the linebacker spots, including Jordan Jones, who missed most of the spring to have shoulder surgery and has been battling some other aches and pains this camp.
The head coach described him as “hit or miss.
“It’s aggravating him and all of us,” Stoops said of Jones, who was fifth on the team in tackles lasts season with 64 in just nine games (missing games again because of an injury). “He’s got a couple things going on that happened through the summer. They’re just nagging him. (He) hasn’t been able to get out there.”
True freshman Chris Oats has been getting some reps at Jones’ weakside linebacker spot along with others. UK has been “very thin” at inside linebacker spots in particular.
“Chris is a young kid, but he’s had some moments where he’s shined,” Daniel said of the four-star linebacker from Cincinnati. “Give him a couple years and I believe he’ll be an unbelievable linebacker.”
Even at the outside linebacker spots, the Cats have been thin, Stoops said. He mentioned just Jordan Wright as one of the players who was unavailable on Saturday.
“It’s difficult, but we can’t make it an excuse,” Daniel said of the injuries. “Guys go down, but (other) guys are here for a reason, too. They’ve got to step up and make plays, including myself.”
As for the injured parties, Stoops said that nothing should last more than a few days this week. And players being out made it hard to judge how much progress the defense had made.
“Just very inconsistent at times,” Stoops said. “Got to look at the film and see whether it was just very good execution offensively, making great individual plays, or not doing so well defensively.”
Who made life difficult for the defense on Saturday?
“Everybody,” Daniel said. “Everybody gave us trouble. It’s just one of those things where they made plays. … We made some mistakes, but Benny ran the ball good. Gunnar (Hoak) and Terry (Wilson) looked good. The offensive line looked good. The receivers caught the ball and did some great stuff and they made plays.”
Kentucky did not make statistics available after the scrimmage, so it’s not clear who all of the big playmakers were on offense, but a few details came out during interviews.
Snell, who missed last week, was a difference-maker as always. There was one small play he wished he could get back, though. He misjudged a pass on a sideline wheel route that could’ve scored.
“I had to guess and I dropped it,” Snell said. “It would’ve been a touchdown. It was going to be like a 40-yard touchdown. I dropped it. I made up for it, though. I always make up for my mistakes.”
The junior is working to be a more complete player.
“I’ve been working on being guarded in man coverage a lot, working my hands,” he said. “I’m catching the ball on the JUGS (machine) a lot. If I drop the ball I make sure I hold myself accountable and do my pushups. That’s one thing I’m improving. When I drop the ball, I make sure that’s the one thing I don’t do.”
▪ Snell is a big fan of freshman running backs Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez, as well as 5-foot-8 slot receiver Akeem Hayes. “Little Akeem, he’s doing a great job catching the ball.”
On what he likes about Hayes, Snell added: “He’s very fast. A lot of guys can’t cover him. He just outruns them. He’s got hands. He catches it. He’s very hard to tackle because he’s so small and so quick. He’s going to be good.”
▪ After calling out the wideout group in particular a week ago, Stoops seemed more pleased, praising a competitive catch by Tavin Richardson. “We had really good coverage on it, I thought we were going to intercept it, and Tavin came down with it and scored,” Stoops said. “One of those situations where I was mad at the defense, but I am glad to see us getting the ball down the field and making some big plays. That was good.”
▪ After he missed on covering Richardson on that play, cornerback Derrick Baity asked to go back in and nabbed an interception shortly after, “which was good for him to bounce back and do,” Stoops said.
Requisite QB update
Both Wilson and Hoak had their moments on Saturday and Stoops said he expects to make a decision on that soon.
“We have to settle in and see where we’re going to go,” he said. “We wanted to wait with totally open minds through this scrimmage and give them all equal opportunity.”
Hoak and Wilson took an equal number snaps and now coaches will go back and look at film.
“They both did some good things today,” Stoops said. “Offense in general moved the ball pretty good, so that’s good that they both did good things and look good. We’ll zero in on that probably as you get closer to the Monday of game week.”